Feeling useful and connected through a community garden

Reduced Inequalities logo, one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Supporting men’s mental health

Men up North is a forward-thinking community of men aged 18 upwards from numerous different heritage and social backgrounds.

Their focus is primarily on supporting men’s mental health and suicide prevention and their aim is to allow for a safe space to have conversations around mental health related topics.

They are based in Sheffield, Chesterfield and Hartlepool, but the Men Up North talked about here are the Sheffield group.

Creating an inclusive community garden

In Sheffield there is a real need to support men of colour with mental health, which is very clear by the number of men attending the Men Up North group, and also by the number of multicultural men who take their own life in the city.

These same men struggle feeling that they do not belong in outdoor spaces, they don’t feel places like the Peak District are for ‘them’, partly because they are unsure of what the ‘rules’ are when out in the countryside.

Men up North applied for funding to transform an overgrown Sheffield allotment into an inclusive, friendly, community garden particularly for Black and Asian and ethnic minority men during the coronavirus pandemic.

Diego's story

Diego, a young man from Colombia, was waiting for NHS mental health treatment having felt isolated, depressed & suicidal. Lockdown made it worse as he had just lost his job.

He heard about the allotment project via Facebook and contacted Men Up North to get involved. He arrived to his first session alone, quiet and looking nervous.

The allotment was already busy, with men cutting hedges & clearing nettles. He was introduced to another man who was leading, and he simply asked “How can I help?” He became part of a group helping to clear.

The last two hours of the session were reserved for circle time, a time for the men to reflect on their time and to talk. 

The first thing that came out from Diego’s mouth was “That was hard work! I don’t know why, but I feel so good!”

He shared his feelings with the group telling them it was the first time he felt truly accepted and welcomed. He didn’t feel shame that he was broken and he realised that there are other men there that can pick him up when he’s down.

The next day Diego complained about how his muscles were aching, but he said it with a smile as it was the first time in a long time he has felt useful again.

Diego has been a regular at the allotment ever since and now does some translation work to help others too. He has also become one of their Outdoor Champions, leading groups and encouraging others to participate.


Creating resilience and shifting perspectives

Many of the potential participants had heightened anxiety and were worried about how they could cope, they also felt very unsure and needed support with their mental health. Some of the men felt trapped and needed strategies on how to cope for themselves and their families during lockdown.

Their goal was to create an inclusive outdoor ‘safe space’ where men of colour could start to feel at ease being in nature and from that then tidy the space up, learn to grow, share time together and feel comfortable to talk and open up.

They also wanted to develop an outdoor programme to focus on resilience, helping the men to shift their perspective of the outdoors.

Finally they wanted to create some ‘Outdoor Champions’, people within the group who would then encourage more men to get involved.

The project not only improves access to local green space, and growing education, it also improves the mental health of and reduces isolation for a group of men in need.

Nearly half of the participants are fathers and they also hoped that the participants shifted perspective would trickle down to their children, opening the horizons for the next generation of children to the positive benefits of being outdoors.

Benefiting from the great outdoors

The whole experience helped the men to open up to different perspectives, spending effort & time outdoors and the benefit of it for their mental health.

They got a sense of community & a peer-to-peer network, a feeling that they were not alone. They also found it a new, rewarding experience and an alternative place in nature to go to for the men in the community.

Surprisingly they also created a new foraging group created from the venture. Happily, for some of the men, the time in the garden gave them the confidence to explore the British countryside more.

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